Ladder of Inference
Short Circuiting Reality
The following "Ladder of Inference" was, I believe,
initially developed by Chris Argyris, and subsequently presented
in Peter Senge's "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice
of the Learning Organization."
What the diagram implies is that we begin with Real
Data & Experience, the kind that would be captured
by a movie camera that didn't lie. We then choose a set of Selected
Data & Experience that we pay attention to. To this
Selected Data & Experience we Affix
Meaning, develop Assumptions, come to
Conclusions, and finally develop Beliefs.
Beliefs then form the basis of our Actions which
create additional Real Data & Experience
The circular nature of this description becomes evident when the
diagram is redrawn with an added influence.
This diagram indicates the reinforcing nature of this structure,
as each action builds on the one before it. Yet there is an apparent
difficulty with this structure.
It is our Beliefs which influence the Selected
Data & Experience we pay attention to.
This diagram indicates that as our Beliefs
influence the Selected Data & Experience
we pay attention to they essentially establish an internal reinforcing
loop which short circuits reality. The tendency is to select data
to pay attention to which supports our beliefs. And, I would expect,
as our Beliefs become more and more rigid the
Selected Data & Experience we are willing
to pay attention to will become a smaller and smaller portion
theWay of Systems
The relevant question seems to relate to how do we stop short
circuiting reality and begin to see reality for what it really
My experience has lead me to understand that although there are
many similarities in the way we each view Real Data &
Experience there are subtle differences in the ladders
of inference we traverse. I have found that by developing an understanding
of the rungs on others ladders of inference the alternative perspectives
provide a basis for uncovering inconsistencies between the Real
Data & Experience and Selected Data &
Experience resulting from my beliefs. An earnest endeavor
to seek truth and understanding seems most beneficial.
Copyright © 2004 Gene Bellinger